GAINESVILLE — On Monday, it was Billy Donovan's call. Wednesday night, the decision over whether to cut down the nets in traditional celebratory fashion rested solely with his Florida seniors.
So when the No. 11 Gators had secured a 66-40 win over Vanderbilt to earn their second outright SEC regular-season championship in three seasons, the seniors made the call.
"After the game he asked us what we wanted to do, and obviously we said we wanted to cut down the nets," said senior forward Erik Murphy, who had 10 points and six rebounds. "It was one of the best feelings I've ever had."
Along with senior Mike Rosario, it was Murphy and Kenny Boynton who took down the last pieces — a fitting final act in their last appearance at the O'Connell Center before a crowd of 10,504
"We just told each other we did it," said Boynton, who had a game-high 15 points. "It was a goal we set at the beginning of the season, to accomplish it, that just felt really special."
Florida (24-5, 14-3 SEC) clinched its fourth outright league title in school history, the third under Donovan. The Gators finished undefeated at home (15-0) for the second time under Donovan. UF visits Kentucky on Saturday, then the SEC tournament starts March 13.
Perhaps it was the emotions surrounding Senior Night, but the Gators seemed out of synch until midway through the second half, when a 3-pointer by Tampa's Michael Frazier with 11:38 remaining in the game gave UF a huge boost. On Florida's next possession, Boynton hit a 3-pointer that began a 13-0 run to give the Gators a 56-32 lead.
While the Gators struggled on offense, their defense was solid. The Commodores (13-16, 7-10) scored just 10 in the final 11:20 and shot 26.9 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3-point range. They're the 12th team to fail to score 50 against UF this season.
Kendren Johnson led Vanderbilt with 15 points.
Donovan said he was thrilled for his seniors because "a lot of times on Senior Night, it doesn't quite end like that: You go undefeated at home your senior year, you clinch a conference championship outright, and you walk off the court with an opportunity to cut down the nets."
"I definitely think we've really overachieved this year, there's no question in my mind," Donovan added. "We've battled lot of injuries, and I don't think you're going to look out there and see three lottery picks. We've done it by being a good team."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]